Asus ROG Phone 3 review: Solid contender for best Android phone of 2020

By: |
August 10, 2020 4:53 PM

While the ROG Phone 3 does come with its fair share of unique problems, it is also a solid contender for the best Android phone of this year.

Asus ROG Phone 3The base model of the ROG Phone 3 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage has been launched in India at Rs 49,999. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

In a world full of pros, maxes, and ultras, it’s kind of surprising that Asus chose to go vanilla with its new ROG Phone 3. To be clear, there’s nothing vanilla about it, except the name. In fact, with the kind of hardware that it comes with, it won’t be wrong to say that the ROG Phone 3 is a God among lesser mortals, an Android superphone if you may. I guess what I am trying to say here is, it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. What matters is, what it’s capable of doing. And as far as doing things is concerned, Asus has thrown the kitchen sink at it, literally and figuratively.

For starters, the ROG Phone 3 is one of the first few phones worldwide and the first (and only) phone in India to be powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 865+ processor. Then there’s the phone’s display that supports a high 144Hz refresh rate (that’s the highest on any phone in India today). Rounding off the whole package is a gigantic 6,000mAh battery (that’s the largest on any flagship phone in India right now). These are just some of its highlights. There’s a lot more that we will talk about in this review.

But despite the ROG Phone 3 being a phone all about the excesses in terms of specs and features, it’s also an accessible phone in terms of pricing. That’s its biggest highlight. The base model of the ROG Phone 3 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage has been launched in India at a price of Rs 49,999 while the top-end model of the phone with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage comes in at Rs 57,999. That’s significantly less than what you would pay for phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra) and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I know you’re probably wondering what’s the catch then. Well, while the ROG Phone 3 does come with its fair share of “unique” problems, it is also a solid contender for the best Android phone of this year. There, I said it.

Design and build quality

The ROG Phone 3 has nearly the same physical dimensions and styling as last year’s ROG Phone II. This is so it can be backward compatible with its predecessor’s exhaustive catalogue of first-party accessories. While the reasoning is fair and just, this also means that the ROG Phone 3 is still as big and bulky as the phone it replaces. If anything, the ROG Phone 3 (9.85mm) is slightly thicker than the ROG Phone II (9.5mm). There’s a justification for that too. Asus has cranked up the thermals substantially and yet somehow managed to retain a 6,000mAh battery inside the ROG Phone 3. In a word, that’s impressive. The headphone jack has been removed for some mysterious reason that I just can’t wrap my head around though. Asus is bundling a dongle in the box to lessen the blow.

Asus ROG Phone 3With the ROG Phone 3, Asus has tried to offer a package that is also appealing to non-gamers. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

There’s no escaping the fact that the ROG Phone 3 is unwieldy. For some context, the only other conventional giant in the market today which is the Galaxy S20 Ultra, weighs 220g. The ROG Phone 3 weighs 240g. It’s a given then that you already know what you’re getting yourself into if you’re looking to invest in it. But regardless of its “beefy” proportions, I really like how Asus has designed the ROG Phone 3.

The phone has curved sides and rounded edges that make life somewhat bearable with it. The power button and the volume rocker both lie on one side and they are positioned just right, not too low, not very high. There are four microphones scattered across the body so no matter how you hold the phone, you won’t block any signals. There are two USB Type-C ports placed very strategically so you can charge the phone conveniently no matter how you’re using it. It’s all about the little things and the ROG Phone 3 has them covered very thoughtfully.

While it’s still very reminiscent of its predecessor, the ROG Phone 3 does come with a tweaked design. I understand what Asus is trying to do here, but the all-round result can swing either way. With the ROG Phone 3, Asus has tried to offer a package that is also appealing to non-gamers. You know, the kind of crowd that would rather pick a Galaxy S20 Ultra or an iPhone 11 Pro Max over a “niche” gaming phone. The ROG Phone 3 is, as a result, a lot more subtle and subdued in comparison to the ROG Phone II. All of the nitty-gritties that we’ve come to expect from a ROG Phone by now (including the hallmark ROG logo studded with RGB lighting) are still there, but they’ve been toned down to attract a wider audience. The biggest change comes by way of build materials. While the ROG Phone II had a hefty mix of glass and metal, the ROG Phone 3 is all glass and some metal (this is restricted to the sides now). Asus is still using Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on the back, but it is all glossy this time. Sharp lines that used to run across the back are fewer this time. The Republic of Gamers branding loses out on the rainbow effect too. The exhaust vent is also smaller in the ROG Phone 3.

Asus ROG Phone 3Asus has cranked up the thermals substantially in the ROG Phone 3. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The only gamer-y element Asus is highlighting this year is its new Game Cool 3 cooling system which uses a three-layered setup consisting of a large graphite film, a redesigned Copper 3D vapor chamber, and an enlarged heat sink (which is claimed to be six times larger than the ROG Phone) for passive cooling. A part of the heat sink is visible on the outside through a transparent fin-shaped window. Like the ROG Phone II, the ROG Phone 3 also supports active cooling when paired with a dedicated Aero Active Cooler accessory which is sold separately.

Display

In line with making the ROG Phone 3 an everyday use phone, Asus has brought some changes to the front as well, but the underlying tonality remains the same. Sizeable bezels at the top and bottom ends have been retained from last year to house “updated” dual stereo speakers in addition to giving your palms ample resting space for when you’re gaming. Copper accents that flanked the speakers in last year’s model have been removed entirely giving the ROG Phone 3 a clean and minimalist look.

Asus ROG Phone 3The ROG Phone 3 has the fastest display on any phone in India today. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

That display is far from minimalism though. It is still a 6.59-inch AMOLED 1080p+ panel with support for 10-bit HDR (or deep color) and Corning Gorilla Glass 6 protection but it is much faster. The ROG Phone 3’s display is capable of rendering images 144 times per second which is a step-up from the ROG Phone II’s 120Hz panel. Asus has also bumped up the touch sensor sampling rate to 270Hz while touch latency is 25ms. Response time is 1ms.

I know that’s a lot of technical jargon so let me try and simplify it for you. The ROG Phone 3 has the fastest display on any phone in India today and while not everybody will be able to make out the difference between it and a 120Hz phone like the Galaxy S20 Ultra or even the iPad Pro, the difference is most certainly there. You can notice it in action in real-time especially when you have one of the phone’s ROG themes on and also X-mode (which is what unlocks the phone’s full hardware) running in the background. Frankly speaking, so much is happening in front of you at this point of time, it can become too much to take sometimes. The ROG Phone 3’s display can handle all of it like a boss though with buttery smooth scrolling and fluid animations most of the time. Then of course is the gaming part which is obviously benefited from all this.

The best part about the ROG Phone 3 is how it handles refresh rate(s) and the granular control it gives you over it. The phone supports as many as five profiles, 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz, and also auto. You can also tweak refresh rates on a per-app basis from the pre-installed Armoury Crate app – this app can also intelligently group apps basis of refresh rate support so you know which app works best at which setting. So that’s nice.

Asus ROG Phone 3The phone supports as many as five profiles, 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz, and also auto. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

All said and done, unlike iOS which is customized for high refresh rate, Android still has a long way to go to reach Apple’s high standards. The little lags and stutters you’ll sometimes come across on the ROG Phone 3 have got nothing to do with Asus – and Google needs to do something about it soon enough.

As for display quality, it’s good across the board. Peak brightness and color reproduction are both handled very well by the phone. For biometrics, the ROG Phone 3 has an optical in-screen fingerprint scanner which is fast and responsive, and also fairly reliable.

Performance, software and battery life

Under the hood, the ROG Phone 3 has Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 865+ processor. The biggest highlight here is that the Snapdragon 865+’ primary CPU core can achieve up to 3.1Ghz clock speed (that’s the fastest for any mobile processor to date). Since the Snapdragon 865 maxed out at 2.84Ghz, we’re basically looking at a 10% jump in CPU performance. The paired Adreno 650 GPU also gets a 10% boost in the Snapdragon 865+ (relative to the Snapdragon 865). This is paired with up to 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and up to 256GB UFS3.1 storage (non-expandable).

Last year’s ROG Phone II was already sorted when it came to performance and all-round user experience. If anything, the ROG Phone 3 feels even snappier, obviously, while keeping intact everything else I liked about its predecessor. By that I mostly mean software. Like the ROG Phone II, you can choose to use either stock Android-based (Android 10) Zen UI or a gamer-centric ROG UI software on the ROG Phone 3. But whatever “theme” you opt for, the experience is clean and fluid without any unnecessary apps or spammy ads and notifications to spoil your experience.

Asus ROG Phone 3There are three different performance profiles you can choose from. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

As expected, Asus’ Armoury Crate is your one stop shop for all things gaming and X-Mode is a dedicated toggle that you can turn on to “unleash” the full potential of the Snapdragon 865+ processor inside the ROG Phone 3. There are three different performance profiles you can choose from, like it is in a gaming laptop, and you can also selectively control factors like individual game settings and exterior lighting. That’s in addition to the fact that the whole setup looks like a tiny futuristic console, enough to leave hardcore gamers satisfied for good.

Since the ROG Phone 3 supports passive cooling, it has a tendency to get hot during extended gaming sessions. That’s not surprising for a phone that crams in so much power inside, but at least, Asus made the effort to design (redesign in fact) the thermals with some serious thought. Also, to ensure things are in check, Asus doesn’t allow you to push the Snapdragon 865+ processor to its extremes unless you snap the Aero Active Cooler accessory on to it. That’s clever because the ROG Phone 3 anyway comes with power to spare, so you don’t need to have the SD865+ on its toes all the time.

Another clever trick up its sleeve, are Asus’ hallmark ultrasonic Air Triggers. The Air Triggers 3, as Asus is calling them now, support swipe gestures and dual-partition button emulations while a separate motion sensor adds another gesture that will allow gamers to control a specified action by simply shaking the phone. What I really like about them is that users can manually define their pressure sensitivity so they’ll know the difference between when you’re actually looking for an interaction or casually resting their fingers on them. I like that with every iteration, Asus is bringing these “virtual” interactions a step closer to physical shoulder buttons.

Asus ROG Phone 3The ROG Phone 3 with its 6,000mAh battery is easily a 2-day phone. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The ROG Phone 3 with its 6,000mAh battery is easily a 2-day phone for casual users and a 1-day phone at least for even the most discerning gamers. But that was expected. What really sets the ROG Phone 3 apart from other high-end phones in the market today is Asus’ focus on battery longevity. While fast charging is the new normal now, Asus is probably the only company to outfit its new phone with a “slow” charging mode that caps it at 10W. There’s also scheduled charging so you can charge it as per your pace. Both these features are intended for users who like to charge their phone overnight and ensure they’re not overcharging it thereby deteriorating the life of their battery. The ROG Phone 3 also supports passthrough power, like a laptop, so it will only charge your phone enough to handle most operations. The phone also supports 30W fast charging for when you need to top it up quickly. Quick Charge 4 and PD are also an option. There is no wireless charging though.

Cameras

The ROG Phone 3 has three cameras on the back. There’s a 64MP main (Sony IMX686), a 13MP ultra wide angle, and another 5MP macro camera. Considering how most gaming phones tend to overlook this aspect, don’t know why, the ROG Phone 3 cameras are at least serviceable. They won’t blow your mind or anything with outstanding detail or impressive dynamic range, but under ideal circumstances which means good, even lighting, the ROG Phone 3 can surely make the most out of the available camera hardware (and Spectra 480 ISP). This is especially true for the main camera.

The main 64MP camera (that shoots at 16MP by default) can capture good looking photos with plenty of detail and generally warm, pleasing colors, in good lighting. Portraits shot using this camera also come out nice and detailed with good subject separation. The ultrawide angle camera does not capture as much detail (and also it lacks autofocus) but gets the job done in good light. Macro photos are mostly a hit or miss. The main camera can also shoot well-to-do photos in low light and the on-board night mode surely helps to squeeze more detail but there’s still some room for improvement. The ultrawide angle and macros could be better in low light.

Asus ROG Phone 3The ROG Phone 3 has three cameras on the back. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

For videos, that main 64MP camera is capable of up to 8K recording and when paired with electric image stabilization, it can churn out pretty decent videos. The ultrawide angle camera can also shoot GoPro-like “Hyper Steady” videos if you’re into that sort of thing.

On the front, the ROG Phone 3 has a 24MP camera that shoots 6MP selfies by default. These are nice and clear with warm color tones under good lighting, and just about useful as the intensity of light goes down.

Should you buy the Asus ROG Phone 3?

Asus has made all the right choices with the ROG Phone 3 but the most important choice it made was to keep improving. The ROG Phone II was already a fantastic phone and yet Asus did not take things for granted this year. Rather it worked harder to make the ROG Phone 3 make sense for a wider audience, all the while keeping true to its gaming roots.

The ROG Phone 3, to that effect, has every ingredient in the book to make you sit up and take notice. But most importantly, it puts those ingredients to good use, also challenging the status quo while at it. The ROG Phone 3 is a gaming phone, sure, but it’s also a good Android phone that almost everybody could use and be satisfied. As the whole world gets used to the new normal, lines between work and play are increasingly blurring. Phones like the ROG Phone 3 that can do both effortlessly were just what the doctor ordered.

Pros:

  • Most powerful phone in India today
  • Fastest display on any phone in India today
  • Fabulous battery life
  • Loud stereo speakers
  • All gaming “extras” work as advertised

Cons:

  • Big and bulky
  • Cameras could be better

Also Read Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra long-term review: Great expectations but does it meet them?

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